15 Jan 2012

Dozens still missing after cruise ship disaster

9:57 pm on 15 January 2012

About 40 people are still believed to be missing after a cruise ship ran aground and capsized off the west coast of Italy.

Three people are known to have died, but a South Korean couple were found alive on board the vessel more than 30 hours after it capsized.

The BBC reports rescuers heard voices from a cabin two decks down on the half-submerged ship late on Saturday, and the couple were reached a few hours later.

The pair, who were on honeymoon, were both said to be in good condition when they were rescued.

Hours after that, a third passenger was located inside the ship, but a fire brigade spokesperson said they have not yet been able to move the person to safety.

The Costa Concordia was carrying more than 4200 passengers and crew, when it hit a sandbar on Friday evening near the island of Giglio and listed about 20 degrees before overturning.

A large gash can be seen in the hull.

Most people reached land by lifeboats but some swam to shore.

Coastguard vessels are searching the waters around the ship and divers are going through its submerged decks.

The ABC reports the ship has 58 suites with balconies, five restaurants, 13 bars, five jacuzzis and four swimming pools.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported 4165 out of 4234 people on board have been accounted for. However, the passenger list may not have been fully up to date.

Italian, German, French and British nationals were among the 3200 passengers on board. There were also 1000 crew.

The Costa Concordia sailed earlier on Friday from Civitavecchia port near Rome for a Mediterranean cruise to Marseille after calling at ports in Sicily, Sardinia and Spain.

Passengers were eating dinner on Friday evening, when they heard a loud bang, and were told that the ship had suffered electrical problems.

But they say it was an hour before they were put in lifeboats.

The coast guard said the 290-metre vessel ran aground, started taking in water and listing by 20 degrees. Orders were given to abandon ship.

Rescued passengers were accommodated in hotels, schools and a church on Giglio, a resort island 25km off Italy's western coast.

Costa Cruises, the company which owns the ship, said it could not yet say what had caused the accident.

But the company's president Gianni Onorato said the ship had experienced a blackout after hitting a big rock.

He said normal lifeboat evacuation had become almost impossible because the ship had listed so quickly.

Captain detained

The ship's master is now in custody in Grosseto. Captain Francesco Schettino was detained after being questioned for several hours by prosecutors.

He is being held on suspicion of multiple manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.

Captain Schettino told Italian television that the ship had hit a rocky spur while cruising in waters which, according to the charts, should have been safe.

As we were navigating at cruise speed, we hit a rocky spur, he told Tgcom24.

According to the nautical chart, there should have been sufficient water underneath us.

But a journalist on the island of Giglio says the vessel was too close to land.

It was the classic passage, the cruise liners do it often, all lights lit up but here, he went too close, a lot more than usual, said Giorgio Fanculli, who saw the vessel sink.